Since Monday's game will happen during breakfast (10am, don't oversleep), we decided to get this post up a little early.
It's been a rough year for the Washington Wizards, and I'm not even talking about Gilbert Arenas turning their locker room into a scene from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Javaris Crittenton played the roll of Tuco Benedicto Pacifico Juan Maria Ramirez). Instead, the death of team owner Abe Pollin has left this a rudderless vessel, floating in that vast wasteland between being contenders—probably not going to happen—yet still armed with too many wins (13) to gain prime position in the 2010 draft (AKA, the John Wall Sweepstakes). Washington is in that awkward middle ground, a position not entirely unknown to Blazers fans that suffered through the 2005-06 season. Do you salt the soil and start anew? Convince an entire city to forget the words "Agent Zero" forever? Do you build on the foundation of Caron Butler, DeShawn Stevenson, and the delicate remnants of Mike Miller's ponytail? It's a tough situation to find yourself in, one that no franchise envies.
Headlines aside, this is a Wizards team used to playing without Arenas. While he was the face of the franchise, Arenas saw minutes in a paltry 23% of Washington's game over the past three seasons. Both Butler and Stevenson are capable of taking over a game, Brendan Haywood is a double-double master, and wee Earl Boykins is the sort of player that can give the Blazers fits (See: José Juan Barea).
To topple the team that drafted two current Trail Blazers—Juwan Howard in 1994 (!) and Steve Blake in 2003—Portland will need to focus on exposing the weaknesses of a Wizards' defense that surrenders nearly 104 points per game. That might be hard if Brandon Roy spends another game wearing a suit on the bench, but his replacement in the lineup, Jerryd Bayless, will have an opportunity to make it the rim without the nightmare-inducing Dwight Howard looming nearby. That is, if Bayless doesn't get the hook for a healthy Blake, which was the case in Friday's victory over Orlando. This games marks the start of a four game East Coast swing, with upcoming games in Philadelphia, Boston, and Detroit. The health of Brandon Roy is probably the only thing standing between a 3-1 trip, and a 1-3 trip.
Set your alarms, 10am on Monday.